MLB may go to a more unbalanced (and more unfair?) schedule

By Danny Knobler | Baseball Insider
'I believe that if there's a wild card, the schedule should be balanced,' Joe Girardi says. (Getty Images)
The idea of realignment -- with the Astros moving from the National League Central to the American League West next year -- was that having six five-team divisions would result in a fairer schedule for everyone.

But what's fair?

The 2013 isn't even done yet, but some teams are already concerned. The reason, according to a high-ranking official of one of those teams: The new schedule will be at least as unbalanced as the current one, and possibly more so.

In fact, the official said, teams may well go from playing 18 games a year against each division opponent to playing 19 a year. In that case, teams would play 47 percent of their games against teams within their own division.

The division races would indeed be fairer, because an effort is being made to have each team within a division play the same number of games against the same opponents.

The problem is with the wild-card races, particularly if the divisions remain as competitively unbalanced as they are this season. As of Thursday morning, every team in the American League East had a winning record, and the AL East as a whole was 23 games over .500 (77-54) against the two other AL divisions.

Remember, with two wild-card teams in each league, four of the 10 teams that make the playoffs will be wild cards.

"I believe that if there's a wild card, the schedule should be balanced," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.

As of Thursday, the Yankees were a half-game behind the Orioles and Rays, who were tied for first place in the East. The Yankees' 30-24 record would be good for the second wild-card spot.

But the Yankees have played just 19 of their in-division games. That means that 53 of their remaining 108 games -- about 49 percent -- will be against their four AL East rivals.

If the Orioles, Rays, Blue Jays and Red Sox play as well as they have in the first half of the season, that puts the Yankees (and the other AL East teams) at a competitive disadvantage against AL Central and AL West teams in the wild-card races.

The situation is somewhat similar in the National League, where all but one team in the East is above .500, and the Phillies are just one game under, at 28-29. The NL East is 25 games over .500 (81-66) against the other two divisions.

Like the Yankees, the Nationals and Marlins will play nearly half their remaining games against teams within their own tough division.

Baseball likes the unbalanced schedule, because of how it promotes rivalries, eases travel and gives teams more prime-time television slots.

It's only a problem if you're worried about the fairness of the wild-card races. It's only a problem if one division is much better than the others.

Right now, the AL East is that much better.

"It's tougher this year, and on an annual basis, I think it's going to keep getting tougher," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.

As of Thursday, AL East teams held the two wild-card spots. The remaining schedule will make it tough for them to hold on.

The future schedule will make it just as tough.
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